NT Wright on Mind, Body, Spirit and the Intermediate State
The following quote is N.T. Wright's paper ‘Mind, Spirit, Soul and Body: All for One and One for All
Reflectionson Paul’s Anthropology in his Complex Contexts’ given at the Society of Christian Philosophers: Regional Meeting, Fordham University in March 2011.
In his paper, Wright discusses the body/soul dualism as it is often addressed within philosophical circles. Coming from his understanding of Paul and other NT writings, he argues that as human beings we are made up of a unified mind, body, soul, and spirit. These aspects cannot be separated, but we are fully and wholly one. The resurrection is thus the remaking of the whole person and not just the body. This quote is part of the heart of his argument of which there is much to ponder.
"...we do not need what has been called ‘dualism’ to help us over the awkward gap between bodily death and bodily resurrection. Yes, of course, we have to postulate that God looks after those who have died in the Messiah. They are ‘with the Messiah, which is far better’. But to say this we don’t need to invoke, and the New Testament doesn’t invoke, the concept of the ’soul’, thereby offering, like the Wisdom of Solomon, a hostage to platonic, and ultimately anti-creational, fortune. What we need is what we have in scripture, even though it’s been bracketed out of discussions of the mind/body problem: the concept of a creator God, sustaining all life, including the life of those who have died. Part of death, after all, is the dissolution of the human being, the ultimate valley of humiliation, the renouncing of all possibility. Not only must death not be proud, as John Donne declared, but those who die cannot be proud, cannot hold on to any part of themselves and say ‘but this is still me’. All is given up. That is part of what death is. To insist that we ‘possess’ an ‘immortal part’ (call it ‘soul’ or whatever) which cannot be touched by death might look suspiciously like the ontological equivalent of works-righteousness in its old-fashioned sense: something we possess which enables us to establish a claim on God, in this case a claim to ‘survive’. But the God who in Jesus the Messiah has gone through death and defeated it has declared that ‘those who sleep through Jesus’ are ‘with the Messiah’, and he with them. This ‘with’ness remains an act, an activity, of sheer grace, not of divine recognition of some part of the human being which can, as it were, hold its own despite death. At and beyond death the believer is totally dependent on God’s sustaining grace, and the NT’s remarkable reticence in speculating beyond this is perhaps to be imitated. The New Testament speaks of this state as a time of ‘rest’, prior to the time of ‘reigning’ in God’s new world. ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord,’ says John the Divine. Amen, says the Spirit (Revelation 14.13)."